Comments on the 2018 Hugo Awards Winners

So the 2018 Hugo Awards were awarded tonight. The full list of winners may be found here, while the detailed breakdown of votes and nominations is here. Finally, if you want to see my comments on the finalists, back when they were announced, go here.

This year, my hit rate this year was even worse than last year, because only four of my first choices won, while two finalists I had no awarded, because I really did not like them, won their respective categories as well. I’ll talk about one of them later. I won’t talk about the other. But then, I guess that my low hit rate in the past two years is a sign that things are back to normal after the puppy years, where the number of good choices was strongly curtailed in many categories. However, my tastes have always been out of step with those of the larger Hugo electorate, even though I am much happier overall with the finalists and winners now than I was ten or twenty years ago.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novel goes to The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin and this time, she was even able to accept her award in person, wearing an utterly gorgeous gown. This win wasn’t exactly unexpected, considering that the first two books in the trilogy already won in 2016 and 2017 respectively, making N.K. Jemisin the first writer ever to win back to back to back Hugos in any of the fiction categories. The entire Broken Earth trilogy would also have been nominated in best series, but N.K. Jemisin declines the nomination. What is more, the 2017 Best Novel ballot was a lot stronger than the 2018 Best Novel ballot. New York 2140 was very much a “love it or hate it” book (I’m in the “hate it” category, but then none of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books have ever done it for me) and such books are unlikely to win. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is a perfectly fine murder mystery in space, but not as strong as some of the other finalists. Meanwhile, The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi was just weak and didn’t offer anything that other books (some of them released in the same year) didn’t already do better. I was surprised that it finished in second place. I know Scalzi has a big fanbase, but he has written much better books than this one.

Raven Strategem is an excellent novel (and was my first choice in this category), but was hampered by being the second book in a trilogy where the first did not win. In fact, I do feel a bit sorry for Yoon Ha Lee, whose outstanding trilogy remained unrecognized by the major genre awards so far, largely because it happened to come out at the same time as N.K. Jemisin’s outstanding trilogy. However, I do hope that Hugo voters will recognise the Machineries of Empire trilogy in some form (either best novel or best series) next year. Provenance by Ann Leckie finally is a lovely story (and was my second choice), but it’s cozier and lighter than the other finalists in this category, basically a caper novel in a science fiction setting. Some people also had issues with the protagonist who is a bit naive and not hypercompetent – and we all know how science fiction fans love their hypercompetent protagonists. It’s not that Provenance doesn’t have anything to say – in fact, it has a lot to say about family, identity, history and how people often manufacture both from whole cloth. If anything The Collapsing Empire was a more lightweight work than Provenance, in spite of its galaxy spanning scope and the fact that it’s apparently an analogy for climate change (but then New York 2140 already has that angle covered in a non-metaphorical way). But in the end how Hugo voters tend to prefer high stakes to small stakes stories (and both Provenance and Six Wakes had smaller stakes) and grim and serious stories over lighter stories, particularly in this rather grim time in American history.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella goes, again unsurprisingly, to All Systems Red by Martha Wells, but then this charming novella about the grumpy security robot Murderbot was the big favourite in this category and also won the Nebula. It also was my first choice in this category, by the way. Contrary to what I said before, here we have proof that cozier stories with smaller stakes can win. The excellent and innovative “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker finished highly deserved in second place. I’m a bit surprised that Sarah Gailey’s delightful River of Teeth finished last, but then this novella hit so many of my personal sweet spots that I was willing to overlook its weaknesses. And besides, Sarah Gailey did get to take home a Hugo in a different category.

The 2018 Hugo Award for best novelette goes to “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer. Again, this is a highly deserved win and this story was also my second choice from an extremely strong ballot. In fact, there was not a single bad story nominated in the novelette category, though some were better than others. Coincidentally, this makes two wins this year for stories with robot protagonists and there was another robot story nominated in the short story category. But then, stories told from the POV of highly advanced and curiously human AIs are one of the big SF trends of recent years. See also the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie (the first book of which, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo and everything else there is to win in 2014), “Cat Pictures, Please” by Naomi Kritzer (which won the Hugo in 2016), “Damage” by David D. Levine (knocked off the Hugo ballot by puppy shenanigans), the not very good puppy story about a sentient warship, and now Murderbot, Suzanne Palmer’s aged repair bots who happen to save humanity and Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s fanfiction writing robot from “Fandom for Robots”.

The 2018 Hugo Award for best short story goes to “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM)” by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s a fine story and a well deserved win, though it wasn’t my first choice. Though I can absolutely see why it won. Because Hugo voters value novelty and “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM)” did offer plenty of novelty. It’s also a more substantial tale than the delightful “Fandom for Robots” and “Sun, Moon, Dust”. “The Martian Obelisk” is fine, but not quite as innovative as “Welcome”. And “Carnival Nine” (which I disliked) and “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” were both divisive “love ’em or hate ’em” stories. Coincidentally, Rebecca Roanhorse also got to take home the Campbell Award (not a Hugo) for the best new writer, making her the first writer to win both the Campbell and a Hugo in a fiction category in the same year since Barry Longyear in 1980. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Campbell win was highly deserved, too, even though my personal favourite was Rivers Solomon, whom I hope we will see on the Hugo ballot again some other year.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Series goes once again to Lois McMaster Bujold for The World of the Five Gods (which was also my first choice), making Lois McMaster Bujold the first and only person to win the best series award back to back and the only person other than Isaac Asimov, who won a lifetime achievement type best series award for the Foundation series, to ever win the best series award. Okay, so the regular best series Hugo is only in its second year, but it’s still a remarkable achievement. Though I’m still not convinced that the best series Hugo really does what it was supposed to do, namely award the sort of series that are hugely popular, but usually overlooked by the best novel awards, because individual installments don’t stand alone all that well and because the sum is greater than its parts. But so far, what we see in this category are a lot of the same finalists we also see in the other fiction categories. Lois McMaster Bujold, much as I love her work, has plenty of wins and nominations for both the Vorkosigan series and the Five Gods series. Perennial Hugo favourite Seanan McGuire has plenty of Hugo nominations and at least one win, though not for the October Daye and InCryptid series (that is, I think an October Daye short story was nominated a few years back). The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett never had a Hugo nomination, because the individual volumes got knocked off the ballot by the puppies. Broken Earth, The Expanse and the Craft sequence, all of which would have been nominated, but declined (Broken Earth) or were disqualified have had individual volumes (and in the case of Max Gladstone, the author) recognised before. In fact, the only 2018 best series finalist that matched the description of “popular, but doesn’t fit onto the best novel ballot” is Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, which isn’t to my taste at all. And Brandon Sanderson did have Hugo nominations and even a win before, just not for Stormlight Archives. Meanwhile, names that I expected to see on the best series ballot – Diana Gabaldon, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, J.D. Robb, Charlaine Harris, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Nalini Singh, etc… – didn’t even make the longlist. Okay, so Butcher hasn’t published a new novel since 2015 (and no new Dresden Files novel since 2014 – thanks a lot, puppies), but the others had eligible work in popular, long-running series. In fact, best series is the category where my tastes are most notably out of step with the Hugo electorate. I also don’t feel that it works as intended, especially since we’ve run out of Lois McMaster Bujold series to nominate.

The inaugural YA Not a Hugo, to be named Lodestar from next year on, goes to Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a good and not exactly surprising choice, considering that Nnedi Okorafor’s work is popular with the Hugo electorate, but also with actual YA readers. In general, the YA award got off to a good start. It will be interesting to see where the Lodestar goes next.

The winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Related Work is No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin. Again, this is not exactly a surprise, because this is after all the last chance to honour one of the true greats of our genre. Though a previously unpublished short story by Ursula K. Le Guin came out this year, so there is one more chance next year. Coincidentally, this is the seventh Hugo win for Ursula K. le Guin. Interestingly, the other finalist in this category featuring a luminary of the field who only recently left us, Nat Segaloff’s biography of Harlan Ellison, finished in last place. But then, a biography is a different beast than a collection of essays by a beloved late author. I’m surprised, though not displeased that Crash Override by Zoe Quinn finished in second place, for while it’s certainly an important and harrowing work, its connection to the genre is also slighter than with the other works. I’m a bit disappointed that Paul Kincaid’s scholarly biography of Iain Banks didn’t finish higher, but then my preference for scholarly works about science fiction, fantasy and horror in this category is not shared by the rest of the Hugo electorate.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story goes to Volume 2 of Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda, who also got to take home to Hugo for Best Professional Artist. Both wins are highly deserved. Meanwhile, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist goes to Geneva Benton, once again highly deserved.

Uncanny Magazine wins the 2018 Hugo Award for best semiprozine, while Lynne and Michael D. Thomas also win the Best Editor Short Form Hugo. Once more, these are not exactly surprising wins, because if you look at the Hugo and Nebula finalists in the past few years, a whole lot of them were published in Uncanny. It’s much as with John W. Campbell in the Retro Hugos, whatever you think of Campbell as a person and editor (and unlike Campbell, I like what the Thomases are doing a lot), the record speaks for itself. And at the moment, Uncanny dominates the short story and novelette categories, while Tor.com dominates the novella category via its (excellent) novella line. Best Editor Long Form goes to Sheila Gilbert, another well deserved win.

So let’s take a look at the two dramatic presentation categories: The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form goes to Wonder Woman, which was a bit of a surprise to me, since I expected Get Out! to win. My own top vote went to Thor: Ragnarok, by the way. On the other hand, Wonder Woman is a very popular film which also proves that DC can make a decent superhero film, after all. Though I wasn’t all that impressed with Wonder Woman. It was all right, Gal Gadot was great as Diana and there were some neat moments, but the anachronistic World War I setting and the German stock villains (though the ultimate villain was not German in the end) put me off. I also didn’t like the fact that the film used a real historical figure, German WWI general Erich Ludendorff, and inserted him into an otherwise fictional setting and even had Diana kill him.. But while the real Erich Ludendorff was a horrible person, he actually survived the end of WWI by nineteen years. They could have just as easily used a fictional general. Not to mention that Wonder Woman totally missed on whose side the Ottoman Empire was in WWII. Hint, it was not on the British/French side and also committed some truly horrific acts against its own population. Of course, the Turkish guy who is a member of Steve Trevor’s squad might well be an Ottoman defector (which would make for an interesting story), but if so, the movie never makes that clear. Honestly, if you want to play in the margins of history, do make sure to get your history right or at least don’t contradict known history. Nothing seen in Captain America: The First Avenger or the Agent Carter TV show ever happened either, but at least the film and TV show don’t contradict actual history beyond things like racially integrated troops, when they would have been segregated in real life. Coincidentally, my parents, both of whom are Wonder Woman fans from way back (my Mom’s fandom goes back to the Lynda Carter series, while my Dad even read some Goden Age Wonder Woman comics) were both disappointed by the movie as well. Their verdict was “This is an okay war film, but that’s not our Wonder Woman.” And when it came to filling the last slot on her ballot, my Mom nominated Logan over Wonder Woman and The Last Jedi. But then I guess many people were so starved for a superhero film with a female lead that they were willing to overlook the issues with Wonder Woman.

All that sounds as if I’m displeased that Wonder Woman won, but I’m not, not really. I did rank Wonder Woman above “No Award” in fourth place, I think, and I am actually looking forward to the upcoming 1980s set Wonder Woman film, which should avoid some of the problems with the earlier movie. Coincidentally, I am a bit surprised that The Shape of Water, which is one of the very few genre films to ever win an Oscar for best picture, finished only in fifth place, but then The Shape of Water seems to be the rare genre movie, which is more popular among mainstream than among genre audiences. No idea why, since I personally think it’s a lovely film.

On the other hand, I am extremely displeased with the winner for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. In fact, when the winner was announced, I emitted the sort of screams of pure frustration with other people’s bad taste that I normally emit only during the Oscars, because the winner was one of the two nominated episodes of The Good Place, a show which I dislike with intense passion and promptly no awarded. With other TV shows I dislike with a passion (the new Battlestar Galactica, Orphan Black), I at least managed to watch at least one full episode, maybe even more. With The Good Place, I lasted five minutes, then I had to switch off the TV, because it was just so awful. With other Hugo finalists I don’t personally care for, I can at least see why others like them, but with The Good Place I can’t see any redeeming characteristics at all. Honestly, as far as I am concerned, The Good Place is the worst non-puppy Hugo finalist I have ever seen. And even some of the puppy finalists were not that bad. It’s certainly the worst winner in the Hugo’s 65 year history so far. Okay, so there is They’d rather be right in 1954, generally considered to be the worst Hugo winner of all time. Now I haven’t read They’d rather be right, but it has to be very bad indeed to compete with The Good Place.

What makes the Hugo win for The Good Place even more infuriating is that unlike one year, where the choice was choice was between four different Doctor Who episodes and Orphan Black, so anybody who did not want to vote for Doctor Who automatically defaulted to Orphan Black, there actually were pretty good choices in the Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form category this year. The Black Mirror episode “USS Callister” was excellent, “Magic To Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” was the one genuinely good episode in the otherwise very uneven first season of Star Trek Discovery and the obligatory Doctor Who episode was pretty good and also a multi-Doctor adventure and a regeneration episode (double regeneration episode, actually), both of which tend to be fan favourites. Not to mention all the fine SFF shows, which did not even make the longlist like Outlander, The Orville, the various DC and Marvel superhero shows, Westworld, Stranger Things and of course The Handmaid’s Tale. Because the genre show that won Emmys, Golden Globes and BAFTAs isn’t good enough for the Hugos, because some people are still pissed off about something that Margaret Atwood may or may not have said fifteen years ago. So with such good choices (plus the clipping song, which is nice, but an outlier), why on Earth would anybody vote for a crappy afterlife sitcom, which thinks it’s funny to stage a real world scenario of the sort of contrived moral dilemmas that are inexplicably popular in the US (The episode that won is called “The Trolley Problem”) and pour a bucket of Kryolan blood on its leads? For that matter, why is Best Dramatic Presentation Short the one category where Hugo voters continue to forget that they tend to prefer darker and more serious works?

Okay, so now I’ve finished ranting about the dramatic presentation categories, let’s take a look at the fan categories, which were a mix of the expected and the unexpected: File 770 takes Best Fanzine, which was not exactly unexpected and well deserved (though my top vote was for Galactic Journey), because File 770 is an institution and an indispensable resource for the community. Unfortunately, Mike Glyer was unable to accept his Hugo in person, because he was taken to hospital only hours before the ceremony. So Jo Van Ekern delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech in Mike’s stead, in which Mike also withdrew himself and File 770 from future Hugo nominations, which is a great gesture.

Best Fancast went to Ditch Diggers, which I for one did not expect, though I liked what I heard. Best Fanwriter went to Sarah Gailey, which I also did not expect, since I had expected a three way race between Foz Meadows, Mike Glyer and Camestros Felapton with Bogi Takács as a potential dark horse candidate. Sarah Gailey, meanwhile, I did not expect to win at all. But then, Sarah Gailey is a writers whose fiction I like much better than her non-fiction (like I said, I loved River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow), whereas with Kameron Hurley and Jeff VanderMeer, I like their non-fiction better than their fiction.

For more discussion on the 2018 Hugo Award winners, see this thread at File 770. Best fanwriter finalist Camestros Felapton shares his thoughts here and last year’s and next year’s Hugo administrator Nicholas Whyte offers his analysis of the results here. Over at Whatever, John Scalzi offers a brief update and a photo from the Hugo Losers’ Party and declares that he is honoured to have come in second to N.K. Jemisin. Beth Elderkin’s Hugo article at io9 also focusses mainly on N.K. Jemisin’s historic Hugo win, as does Joel Cunningham’s post at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

The ceremony itself was a lot more political this year than in previous years, which will piss off the usual suspects. Several winners made references to living in dark times in their acceptance speeches, Mike Glyer and N.K. Jemisin inserted jabs against the puppies into their acceptance speeches (you can read N.k. Jemisin’s acceptance speech here), George R.R. Martin inserted a jab against the Dragon Awards and those who think they’re better than the Hugos into his speech and Sheila Gilbert urged everybody to vote in the US midterm elections this November. Now I actually agree with her that if you can vote for the Hugos, you can vote in political elections (and the Hugos are more work). But plenty of Hugo voters are not American and therefore not eligible to vote in the US midterm elections.

In general, the 2018 Hugos are another triumph for women and creators of colour. All fiction Hugos as well as the Campbell and YA not-a-Hugo/Lodestar went to women this year, three of them women of colour. Women also dominate the other categories. The winners in the art and graphic story categories are all women of colour. Women won best fanwriter and best editor long form. A woman directed the best dramatic presentation long form winner, even though the screenwriters were men. Fancast, semiprozine and best editor short form all went to male/female teams. The only all-male winners were the team behind The Good Place and Mike Glyer for File 770. International creators did not fare so well in the 2018 Hugos. Several were nominated, but the only non-American winner is Sana Takeda, who is Japanese. But then, WorldCon was in the US this year.

The fact that the 2018 Hugos were once again dominated by women, including several women of colour, will of course upset the usual suspects (all links go to archive.org). Here is a not so usual suspect (plus some usual suspects in the comments) with the usual claim that people are not nominating and voting for what they like, but on the basis of race and gender and that the Hugos are suffering from affirmative action. And here is a more usual suspect lamenting that there are way too many women nominated for and winning Hugos and that the Dragons Awards are much better, probably due to being much more male dominated.

Now I can only speak for myself, but I only nominate works I like and vote accordingly. And yes, I usually nominate a lot of women, people of colour and LGBT people, but that’s because I genuinely like those works. I also find that I do tend to prefer works by women to works by men, because works by women are more to my taste and less likely to contain certain irritating tropes. Though I nominated several men, including a few straight white men, too.

Besides, as I said here, considering it took fifteen years for the first woman to win a Hugo and seventeen for the first writer of colour, the straight white men are still far ahead in the big picture. A few female dominated years don’t change that. If only women and people of colour win Hugos for fifteen years in a row, then you can come back and complain. Not to mention that there were male winners at the 2018 Hugo Awards. Last I checked, Mike Glyer, Matt Wallace and Michael D. Thomas were all male (and white). Ditto for the team behind The Good Place and the screenwriters of Wonder Woman.

Meanwhile, Vox Day declares victory, for of course he does. Apparently, now the aim of the Rabid Puppy campaign was to boost N.K. Jemisin’s career or something (not that she needs it). And no, I don’t get it either. Though he did take the time to listen to N.K. Jemisin acceptance speech and did notice that the rocket-shaped middle finger she spoke of is directed at him.

Meanwhile, Jon Del Arroz also declares victory, for of course he does, in spite of his failure to get into an event that banned him months ago and the truly pathetic turnout of his rally against discrimination of conservatives or against pedophilia in fandom or against far left violence or whatever it was supposed to be about in the end. In the footage I saw, the counter-protesters also seemed to outnumber the protesters, while the police outnumbered both groups. But then, Del Arroz couldn’t attend his rally due to a family emergency, so he has to rely on hearsay. Though I also find it interesting that he claims to know exactly that WorldCon 76 and most panels weren’t worth it, even though he never got further than the lobby of the convention centre.

Still, they can declare victory all they want, as long as they walk off to do their own thing and leave the rest of us to do ours.

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